Netbook Experiment Report #1

the netbook experimentIn case you hadn’t read my article from Friday, I’m conducting a little experiment this week – I’m seeing what it’s like to use a “netbook“ computer (a Dell Latitude 2100, to be specific) as my primary machine for the whole week. I’m trying this out as a response to Jeff “Coding Horror” Atwood’s article, in which he rebuts my argument that the computers we typically classify as “netbooks”, occupy a neither-here-nor-there, worst-of-both-worlds middle ground between smartphones and laptop computers.

As I promised in that earlier article, I’d report on my experiences. This is the first of a number of such reports that I plan to file throughout the week.

Jeff Atwood Replies

Jeff saw my article and replied in Global Nerdy, warning me that I’d be disappointed with my particular netbook’s performance due to its Intel Atom processor:

I can guarantee you’ll be unhappy with the Atom CPU. It’s OK for light web browsing, but that’s it. That’s all. No mas.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Intel shows zero interest in making the next-gen Atom faster. Pineview is much better power wise but nil improvement in performance.

The good news is that the CULV Pentiums — like the dual core model in the Acer Aspire 4100 I wrote about — are about 2x faster than the Atom and surprisingly power efficient. Totally acceptable for medium duty laptop stuff.

The key to being satisfied with a netbook is to get out of the Intel Atom ghetto that Intel wants to keep them in…

Visual Studio Express 2010: Too Slow

visual studio 2010 icon As a Developer Evangelist for Microsoft, one of the tools I use most often is Visual Studio, the integrated development environment that’s typically used for developing applications for Microsoft-based platforms, from the desktop to web applications hosted on Windows Server, to mobile apps for Windows Phone and Zune to console apps for the Xbox 360. I currently run both Visual Studio 2008 and Beta 2 of Visual Studio 2010.

Visual Studio 2010 (along with the free Express versions) is the first version of Visual Studio to be built using WPF – Windows Presentation Foundation – the relatively new graphics framework for Windows desktop applications, which makes it easier to give apps the sort of modern appearance that users have come to expect these days. Visual C# Express 2010 and Visual Web Developer 2010 are based on the full version of Visual Studio 2010, and the combination of WPF and the fact that they’re beta 2 and not yet fully optimized proved to be too much for the netbook. I spent a lot of time waiting as they loaded, created new projects, switched views and built apps – more time than I thought was reasonable. I’ve since uninstalled them.

Visual Studio Express 2008: Works Just Fine

visual studio 2008 icon On the other hand, Visual C# Express 2008 and Visual Web Developer 2008 work just fine. I’m having no trouble building apps in ASP.NET MVC, Silverlight or XNA and experiencing no slow-downs. It remains to be seen if the final versions of Visual Studio 2010 with their final optimizations will run without the slowdowns.

I’ll post more updates as I have more experiences!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

5 replies on “Netbook Experiment Report #1”

Hi Joey! As you know, I use an Acer Aspire One with the Atom processor as my main machine. I have to agree with Jeff that it would be nice to have a beefier processor. It’s a shame that there aren’t more netbooks available with better specs – it’s not necessarily the form factor that’s limiting, it’s the (artificial?) cpu and memory design constraints. What is stopping manufacturers from offering higher-powered netbooks, I wonder?

While I do some Rails development with Aptana’s Eclipse-based RadRails IDE on the netbook, I use RDP to our development server to run Visual Studio, which would be too heavy for the netbook. My working style no longer necessitates that I have all the horsepower in my own hands as long as I can remote into anything I like. That’s a netbook design goal – it only falls into your zone of suck if you’re expecting your netbook to pull the weight of a workstation replacement laptop.

I also don’t use the builtin keyboard and display when at home or work – I have an external keyboard, mouse and monitor. We can have a number of these brainless stations at the office for anyone to sit at and plug in their notebook/netbook. This mitigates the form factor suckage.

Video definitely sucks with the Atom processor – not sure if the chipset contributes to this.

Bottom line, though, is that for the $2000 we used to have to spend on a single developer laptop, we can now equip 4 people with gear that will do the job. This is important in a startup environment. Financial suckage is a daily fact of life for those who don’t have whole departments dedicated to selecting the corporate laptop standard.

You are seeing netbooks from the perspective of a power user and Jeff is trying to bring to the table big words like democracy near a trendy-fancy little hardware.

The truth is at my girlfriend: she wants a notebook just because it can feet on her shoulder bag …. ooo …. and because netbooks are sweet.

Nobody buys netbooks because are cheap. There are a lot of netbooks which are more expensive than a laptop.

> I’ll post more updates as I have more experiences!

As VS2010 has been released, and includes a number of performance improvements over beta 2 – what’s it like on your netbook now (if you’ve tried it, that is). Also, are you running 1GB or 2GB or RAM?

I too am contemplating using a netbook as a primary VS2010 development machine and would greatly appreciate your real-world experience


Andrew :o)

How’s the article coming along – it’s been nearly 2 months now, surely the netbook isn’t THAT slow ;o)

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